Layabout, by John Brehm

Do nothing and everything will be done,
that’s what Mr. Lao Tzu said, who walked
around talking 2,500 years ago and

now his books practically grow on trees
they’re so popular and if he were
alive today beautiful women would

rush up to him like waves lapping
at the shores of his wisdom.
That’s the way it is, I guess: humbling.

But if I could just unclench my fists,
empty out my eyes, turn my mind into
a prayer flag for the wind to play with,

we could be brothers, him the older one
who’s seen and not done it all and me
still unlearning, both of us slung low

in our hammocks, our hats tipped
forwards, hands folded neatly,
like bamboo huts, above our hearts.

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Stairway to Heaven, by Alison Hawthorne Deming

The queen grows fat beneath my house
while drones infest the walls

reconnaissance to feed her glut,
wood ripped from studs and joists.

I’ll pay to drill the slab and ruin
her pestilential nest. How to find

the song in this day’s summons?
I’ve been accused of darkness

by my inner light. My brother sits
in the chemo chair another long day

of toxic infusion, the house of his body—
bones, brain and balls gone skeltering.

I sit in my parked car listening
to Robert Plant recall how the English

envied the Americans for getting
the blues, getting all of it, into song.

I remember the dream where
brother and sister, adult and equal,

lean and white as lilies, as bare,
dove into a mountain lake, black water,

high elevation, fir trees growing
in flood water that had joined

two lakes into one. Do you ever dream
of animals, I ask him, hospice bed

looking out on a plywood squirrel
perched on cement block wall.

Frequently. A lilt of surprising joy. What kind?
Mostly the jungle animals. Then: I’m going

to do my exercises now. What exercises?
I like pacing, he said, immobilized

upon his death nest of nine pillows.
Then he closed his eyes to become the inward one

whose only work was to wear a pathway
back and forth within his enclosure.

Gobbo Remembers His Youth, by David Cappella

Let me tell you about suffering
because I was a boy cold without love
in a large house, so dark it stifled laughs.
I would run to my mother with stones
only to drop them under a grim gaze
so harsh I felt tossed in a freezing bath.
Her words, like a cicada’s shrill chirp, pierced
the long summer afternoons of my hopes.
I can still remember my brother’s folded hands
in the coffin, how kissing them burnt me.
I cried uncontrollably, torched inside
with processional fires held by shadowed monks
cowled in their black walk through narrow streets
of my town, terrifying my heart forever.

Kingdom Animalia, by Aracelis Girmay

When I get the call about my brother,
I’m on a stopped train leaving town
& the news packs into me—freight—
though it’s him on the other end
now, saying finefine—

Forfeit my eyes, I want to turn away
from the hair on the floor of his house
& how it got there Monday,
but my one heart falls
like a sad, fat persimmon
dropped by the hand of the Turczyn’s old tree.

I want to sleep. I do not want to sleep. See,

one day, not today, not now, we will be gone
from this earth where we know the gladiolas.
My brother, this noise,
some love [you] I loved
with all my brain, & breath,
will be gone; I’ve been told, today, to consider this
as I ride the long tracks out & dream so good

I see a plant in the window of the house
my brother shares with his love, their shoes. & there
he is, asleep in bed
with this same woman whose long skin
covers all of her bones, in a city called Oakland,
& their dreams hang above them
a little like a chandelier, & their teeth
flash in the night, oh, body.

Oh, body, be held now by whom you love.
Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars,
when dirt’s the only animal who will sleep with you
& touch you with
its mouth.